The Atlanta Braves should consider themselves fortunate to still be in postseason contention given how poorly they have played the past few weeks.
Still clinging to a marginal lead atop the National League Wild Card standings, the Braves will begin their final series of the regular season tonight in the opener of a three-game set versus the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field. The Braves are a game ahead of St. Louis for the final playoff berth in the NL and have lost five of seven and 10 of the past 15 games.
In Sunday's 3-0 loss at Washington in the finale of a three-game series from Nationals Park, David Ross had two of his team's four hits and starter Mike Minor was saddled with the loss even though he allowed one run on six hits and two walks over 4 2/3 innings.
"All the pressure is on St. Louis, because if they don't win, they can't go anywhere," Minor said postgame. "Even if we do lose, they have to win."
The Cardinals kept the pressure on with Sunday's win over the Cubs and will finish the regular season in Houston.
Atlanta, which once owned an 8 1/2-game lead atop the Wild Card standings, will send rookie right-hander Randall Delgado to the mound this evening and he's coming off his first major league victory. Delgado threw five shutout innings in a 4-0 win at Florida last Tuesday and is 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in six starts. He has never faced the Phillies and is 0-1 in four home starts.
Philadelphia has struggled since clinching its fifth straight NL East crown and was able to snap a season-worst eight-game losing streak with Sunday's 9-4 win over the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Hunter Pence fell a double shy for the cycle and went 3-for-5 with three RBI and a pair of runs scored, while Carlos Ruiz tallied four hits and drove in two runs for the Phillies, who pounded out 19 hits and are a major league-best 47-31 on the road this season.
Phils ace Roy Halladay tossed six scoreless innings and gave up only four hits in a winning effort.
"It's nice to go in [to the playoffs] on a strong finish, even though that doesn't always determine how things are going to work out, but to be able to go in and feel good, I'm happy with that," Halladay said.
The Phillies are one win away from recording 100 in a season for only the third time in franchise history. They went 101-61 in both the 1976 and 1977 seasons.
Cliff Lee hopes to get back on track when he toes the rubber for Philly tonight. Lee was dealt the loss in a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Nationals last Tuesday and allowed three runs -- two earned -- and 11 hits in seven innings for his first loss since July 25 versus San Diego. Lee had been 7-0 in nine starts before his latest appearance.
The left-hander is 16-8 in 31 starts to go along with a 2.38 ERA, and is 2-3 in seven career starts against the Braves. He posted the sixth shutout of the season and 11th of his career versus Atlanta on Sept. 5 at Citizens Bank Park. Lee is 5-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 13 road starts.
Philadelphia leads the season series with Atlanta by a 9-6 count and has won the last four meetings between the two clubs.